I enjoyed a night of camping with my son-in-law and grandson last week. We chose a site shaded by a mighty old white oak on a bluff on the south shore of Hickory Grove Lake. There were only two other parties in the park’s lovely primitive campground, and one of them left due to what appeared to be a threatening thunderstorm bearing down from the north. That, sadly, fizzled to only a few sprinkles (we need the rain). It was nice to go to sleep with the quiet patter of those rain drops on the tent, though, and the cooling breeze ahead of the little shower made for a very comfortable night.
What do a decent fleece blanket, two old tennis shoes, and two towels have in common? They were all left at the site where we camped by a previous camper. Also picked up were numerous bits of refuse including string, a tent stake, a wrench, and assorted bits of plastic and foil. Another site had a couple of 12 packs of empty beer cans, numerous egg shells, and, well, I could go on and on with what was left behind by a few thoughtless campers. All that was found in spite of park staff regularly cleaning up the area, too.
We took a walk after breakfast on a newly developing trail along the south side of the lake. The new trail segment is part of a larger project to eventually have a trail all the way around the lake. The new segment runs from the shop area at the lake’s southwest corner, past the primitive campground, then to Bobwhite Shelter, and on to a couple of lakeside picnic sites. The trail will be a very nice addition since the only way to get around the south side of the lake before was to walk along the road shoulder. Each stop along the way added to this old ranger’s lament, though, as we gathered more trash.
Especially discouraging (but not surprising) was the old problem of fishing line left behind by anglers. Some of it was snagged high up in trees where retrieving it is difficult, but most was just strewn along the shore. Some still had hooks and weights attached. My grandson picked up a still useable slip bobber that he can add to his tackle box. A fair percentage of my own fishing equipment has been found, including expensive lures, bobbers, a bait bucket, fish stringers, and even a couple of older, but still useable, fishing rods with reels.
Much of the debris we encountered was just unsightly trash, but discarded fishing line is deadly stuff for wildlife. Birds try to incorporate it into their nests and get tangled in it. I have cut several free from such traps over the years, but countless others are never rescued. My old friend, the late Bill Horine, and I once cut a wad of line tangled so tightly around both feet of an angry gander that he could barely walk. He still flew to his mate’s defense when we approached too close to photograph their nest. He was easy to catch, but I still have scars on my arm where he raked me with his toenails trying to get free. Discarded fish line is bad for people, too. I spent considerable time on several occasions unwinding old line that was tightly wrapped around the spindle shaft on a mower. It would eventually have cut into the grease seals and forced expensive repairs when the bearings were destroyed.
Anglers, picnickers, hikers, and campers, please pick up after yourselves. Take home the bait containers, cans, bottles, shoes, line, wrappers, and other debris you bring on your outdoor adventures. Thanks to the more thoughtful among you who typically take home more than you brought with you as we try to keep our precious parks and lakes clean, safe and attractive.
Steve Lekwa is the former director of Story County Conservation. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.